Transport and Environment Convener Lesley Macinnes writes about ambitious but complex plans to make walking, cycling and wheeling safer and easier during the coronavirus pandemic.
One positive aspect of these last few, trying months is the city’s clear desire to get walking and cycling.
Not only has our own analysis shown pedestrian and cyclist numbers rocketing, but since launching the interactive Commonplace map we’ve received thousands of ideas for making it easier and safer to get around the city by foot, bike or wheelchair.
It’s clear there’s work to do – and we’re responding. Every suggestion, from removing guardrails on narrow pavements to pedestrianising streets, to speed reduction or pop-up cycle lanes, is extremely valuable. This process is a very complex one and our teams are working flat-out to assess and consider responses, as well as linking them to those actions already identified across the city.
From inception to delivery, each scheme’s timescales can vary significantly, and we must target the projects that deliver the greatest benefits. For this reason, we won’t be able to undertake every suggestion, but each one gives us an invaluable insight into the kind of city people want to see post-COVID and we’re taking this on board.
We’re already delivering initiatives at a more ambitious rate than any other Scottish local authority. In the last week we have installed more than 5km of pop-up cycle lanes leading to Edinburgh’s two main hospitals, adding to some road closures to help people walk, cycle and wheel to their local greenspaces and amenities. These changes follow engagement with communities, mobility and active travel groups and local councillors. They’ve had a great response so far. We’re continuing to listen to the people that use them, tweaking the designs where necessary.
As we begin to tentatively emerge from lockdown, we must get the city moving. Before long, businesses will begin reopening and this will have a real impact on the way we move around Edinburgh. We want cafes, bars and restaurants, shops and other services to thrive, once they’re able to reopen, while also protecting people’s safety as Scottish Government advice on physical distancing remains.
We’re already preparing for this. From this week we will begin implementing several, major interventions in the city centre to help create a safer environment, encouraging people to spend time on foot or bike as restrictions ease. These include footway widening and the introduction of bus, cycle and taxi gates on East Princes Street and South St David Street, reducing traffic volumes and aiding cycling and public transport, and the partial closure of Waverley Bridge. This kind of real, tangible change, supported by similar, forthcoming measures across the city’s local high streets, will help us to move to the next phase of eased restrictions.
Reintroducing parking enforcement next week is crucial if these measures are to have the desired effect. By minimising often dangerous obstructions from our streets, we will be able to create and maintain spaces for people. What’s more, encouraging turnover of parking spaces means a higher and more varied footfall on our shopping streets.
Much of the work we are undertaking is to create quick, temporary changes to help people travel safely as we adjust to these exceptional circumstances. Emphasising clean, sustainable transport and people-focused spaces, where fewer cars result in less air pollution, supports our long-term city goals of a carbon neutral future where air quality is improved and healthy, and where walking, cycling and wheeling is the norm. We will get through this together and, if we are to make the right decisions now, we can harness these positive outcomes as we emerge from this crisis.